Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

TransLink property tax rates ratchet up again

Mayors have no power to stop board-imposed automatic increases of up to three per cent

Metro Vancouver homeowners will pay a few dollars more to TransLink in property tax this June, thanks to an automatic annual increase that area mayors are powerless to stop.

TransLink’s appointed board of directors last month approved the higher property tax rates, which will see the average $715,000 Metro home pay $232 in 2012, up $4 from last year.

An average business property will pay $3,049, up $40.

The increase works out to an increase of 1.73 per cent for residential and 1.33 per cent for businesses.

The mayors last week voted to rescind a bigger TransLink property tax hike averaging $23 per home that would have taken effect next year to raise $30 million a year for transit expansion.

But TransLink’s board has the legislated authority – granted by the province – to raise as much as three per cent more each year from property taxes without seeking the approval of the regional mayors’ council.

The gradual ratcheting up of TransLink property taxes bites deepest in parts of the region where property values have risen the most – Vancouver, the North Shore and Richmond.

Over the years, TransLink tax hikes – some small ones approved by the board alone and other larger ones okayed by the mayors – have more than tripled the take from property owners from $90 million in 2000 to more than $300 million this year, outpacing the increases in municipal property taxes.

The provincial government has argued property owners should pay even more tax to finance TransLink, and has so far rejected other new funding sources preferred by the mayors, like a vehicle levy or road pricing.

“There cannot be an expectation that cities solely pay through property tax,” said Surrey Mayor Dianne Watts.

She said many people aren’t aware of the TransLink board’s power to automatically raise taxes a small slice each year.

“This is why when we hear there’s more room on property taxes to fund transportation there has to be a realization we’re already paying it and it’s increasing each and every year,” Watts said. “That piece of information gets lost.”

Watts also noted cities outside Metro Vancouver get the local share of the federal gas tax to spend on local roadwork.

But within Metro, cities don’t have the flow of federal gas tax at their disposal because of an agreement sending it all to TransLink each year.

Watts said they must lean more heavily on their own property tax payers as a result.

“That’s money out of our pockets.”